Seven Year Itch

Posted by ESC on September 08, 2003

In Reply to: Seven Year Itch posted by Ameen Nawab on September 08, 2003

: Could someone please enlighten me as to how/when/where/why the SEVEN YEAR ITCH originated?

: Many thanks.

It was a name for an actual itch. Then it was used for a play and movie title with a sexual connotation. Read on:

SEVEN-YEAR ITCH - SEVEN-YEAR ITCH - "Used to describe a husband's or wife's urge to stray from his or her mate after seven years of marriage, this expression appears to have been invented by American playwright George Axelrod in his play 'The Seven Year Itch' and further popularized by the film version starring Marilyn Monroe . Word and phrase hunters haven't been able to turn up any earlier use of the words in a sexual context, although seven-year itch had been used to describe a poison ivy itch that supposedly recurred once every seven years." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). I don't think the "poison ivy itch" part is correct but otherwise Mr. Hendrickson is on the money.

This phrase was researched by William Safire and he gives the details in "Watching My Language: Adventures in the Word Trade" (Random House, New York, 1997). The expression "seven-year itch," in various forms, referring to a skin malady is old. Henry David Thoreau wrote, in 1854: "These may be but the spring months in the life of the race. If we have had the seven-years' itch,' we have not seen the seventeen-year locust yet in Concord." Other early uses: " 'Dialect Notes' noted in a 1907 New Hampshire usage. 'You're worse than the seven years' itch." And poet Carl Sandburg, in his 1936 'The People, Yes,' caught the cadence of the American dialect by using the phrase in what seems to be a physical-annoyance sense: 'May you have the sevenyear itch,' was answered, 'I hope your wife eats crackers in bed.'" But Mr. Safire learned that the use of the term "seven-year itch" for sexual unrest after seven years' of marriage was an invention of playwright George Axelrod. "The Seven Year Itch" was the title of the 1952 Broadway play and the movie, made three years later, starring Marilyn Monroe and (Kentuckian) Tom Ewell. Mr. Axelrod heard the expression while "writing jokes for a hillbilly comedian called Rod Brassfield." The phrase ran through his head while Mr. Axelrod was "desperately seeking a title for the play I had just finished." His character originally was married 10 years but the playwright changed it to seven. "Why seven years, not six or eight? Because seven years has a historical basis: In Genesis, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream of 'seven years of great plenty' followed by 'seven years of famine.'." And so forth. Mr. Safire includes a letter from a reader who says: "The 'seven year itch' has its origins with a microbe known as Sarcoptes scabiei. More commonly called 'scabies.' The bug produces an itching skin irritation that before modern drugs lasted, on average - you guessed it - seven years."

LOS ANGELES, June 22, 2003 - George Axelrod, a writer whose sexually frank farces and feverishly witty satires of the 1950's and 60's heralded the more hedonistic and cynical pop-culture sensibility of later decades, died Saturday at his home in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. He was 81. His daughter, Nina Axelrod, told The Associated Press that he died in his sleep, apparently of heart failure. From Broadway comedies like "The Seven Year Itch" , "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "Goodbye Charlie" to adroit screen adaptations of William Inge's "Bus Stop" , Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and Richard Condon's "Manchurian Candidate" , Mr. Axelrod was celebrated for a quirky, sophisticated sensibility that always seemed slightly ahead of the curve." June 23, 2003/ New York Times: "George Axelrod, 81, Quirky Writer for Stage and Film, Dies," by Rick Lyman.